Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard was released Friday after 30 years behind bars from the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, after serving a life sentence for conspiracy to commit espionage without intent to harm the United States.
Netanyahu statement on Pollard release
His wife Esther greeted him at the prison and drove with him to New York, where they will be spending Shabbat together. The couple released a statement saying that they were grateful to everyone who worked for his release.
President Reuven Rivlin on Friday welcomed the news of Pollard's release, commenting that it was Israel's responsibility and obligation to secure his release.
"We all welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard from prison after so many long and hard years," Rivlin said.
"Throughout the years, our pain was Pollard's pain... we felt the responsibility and obligation to secure his release," the president added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying that he had been looking forward to this day for many years after repeatedly raising Pollard's fate with multiple American presidents. Netanyahu wished Pollard well and said he hoped he could enjoy the rest of his life with peace of mind.
Pollard was not set completely free, so he still has to check in regularly with a parole officer and can be returned to prison for poor behavior. He is not permitted to leave the United States for five years, to give interviews. Pollard is required to wear an electronic bracelet at all times for GPS tracking of his whereabouts and to be subject to unfettered monitoring and inspection of his computers as well as those of any employer who chooses to hire him.
Upon his departure from prison, Pollard's pro-bono lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, filed a lawsuit in a New York district court asking to remove the parole conditions, which the attorneys called unreasonable and unlawful. They said there was no reason to monitor Pollard because American security officials who were in office at the time of his arrest and the parole commission itself determined that he lacked any useful information.
"The notion that, having fought for and finally obtained his release after serving 30 years in prison, Mr. Pollard will now disclose stale 30-year old information to anyone is preposterous," the lawyers said. "Apart from the fact that the information is useless, disclosing it will result in Mr. Pollard’s swift return to prison to serve out his life sentence."
The lawyers wrote that the conditions were illegal, because they violate a federal statute, federal regulations, and the constitution, which strictly constrain the imposition of conditions on parolees. They said monitoring and tracking conditions imposed on Pollard were most commonly imposed on pedophiles, stalkers and similarly dangerous felons who must be closely supervised at all times for the protection of their victims.
"There is no basis whatsoever to treat Mr. Pollard in that manner, and doing so is vindictive and cruel," the wrote.
World renowned criminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who represented Pollard in the past, told The Jerusalem Post
that although such parole conditions were not unprecedented, they are “totally irrational.”
“He has no classified information, so he should be able to talk to the press, go online and go to Israel, where he’s a citizen,” Dershowitz said. “It’s an abuse of the discretion that parole authorities have in a case like this. Frankly, I think part of the reason they don’t want him to go to Israel is that they don’t want him to be a hero there or influence Israeli politics with his conservative views. It’s a political decision, and with him, it’s been about politics all along.”
The head of the Free Pollard campaign, Effi Lahav, said the day is bittersweet, because Pollard suffered through “10,956 black days” in prison. Lahav said Pollard entered prison as a healthy young man and is leaving as a 61-year-old sick man.
“It’s a happy day that he’s getting out of jail and I hope he gets to live a normal life, but I’d be happier if he was released a decade ago,” former US deputy defense secretary Lawrence Korb, who served at the time of Pollard’s sentencing and has actively tried to bring about his release, told Army Radio Thursday.
Netanyahu asked US President Barack Obama when he met with him last week to intervene on Pollard’s behalf and let him move to Israel.
The US president did not respond to the request.
Netanyahu has instructed ministers and MKs to remain low-key about the release, apparently to not anger Obama. He asked them not to greet Pollard when he left prison.
Israeli officials are concerned that too warm a celebration over his release might hurt efforts to persuade the US government to let him leave for Israel sooner rather than later.
Asked whether Netanyahu had issued his ministers with instructions regarding public statements on Pollard, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett told Army Radio on Thursday: “We were asked not to speak expansively.”
As the Post
reported exclusively a year ago, an apartment had been rented for Pollard in the New York area and employment had been obtained for him as an analyst at an investment firm.
Upon his release from prison, Pollard was driven to New York, where he was seen by a doctor. He suffers from severe diabetes and chronic leg and ankle swelling.
Pollard's release was welcomed by a number of prominent American Jewish organizations.
"The Conference welcomes the release of Jonathan Pollard from prison in Butner, North Carolina," read a statement released by Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, the chairman and executive vice president, respectively, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "While we still believe his sentence was disproportionate, we hope that after having paid his debt to society, he should now be able to rebuild his life together with his wife.”
"Jonathan Pollard deserves his freedom and the Rabbinical Assembly, after years of tireless advocacy efforts, welcomes his long-awaited release," said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis. "Jonathan, to the detriment of his health, has served the longest sentence of any individual convicted of a similar offense in the United States. After witnessing firsthand the effects of his long incarceration during a visit to the Butner Federal Correction Complex in North Carolina two years ago, I am truly grateful for his release."
"As the Conservative Movement has iterated many times in the past, including in Rabbinical Assembly resolutions in 1992, 1994, 1995 and 2011, Jonathan Pollard was handed a remarkably unfair sentence," said Rabbi William Gershon, the assembly's president. "We welcome his release after decades of injustice and will keep him and his family in our prayers as they embark on this new chapter in their lives."Photos by AFP and Reuters. Reuters contributed to this report.